Marco Andretti proved to be the fastest driver on track Tuesday as the IndyCar 'veterans' joined the half dozen rookies that had enjoyed two days of running by themselves in preparation for the 92nd Indianapolis 500.

Some 31 drivers completed laps on the first 'proper' day pf practice for the blue riband event, with Andretti - who finished second in the race as a rookie in 2006 - lapping in 39.7177secs to set a nee target for the week. The third generation driver reach 226mph on his best lap in the specially-liveried #26 Team Indiana Jones presented by Blockbuster car.

"The Indiana Jones car is on it so far but, unfortunately, it's still early," Andretti commented, "Obviously, I had a very big tow, but I think you need the mechanical balance to be able to stay flat so you can get a time. I've been very pleased with the guys so far. It was a good start, but this place changes."

Andretti Green Racing team-mate Tony Kanaan was second fastest with a lap at 225.269mph, the Brazilian spending a long time on track after reading the weather forecast.

"It was a very productive day for the 7-Eleven team," he reported, "It seems like we will get some rain tomorrow, so we tried to run as many laps as possible. There are a few improvements we need to make on the car, but I am pretty pleased with it. It was a good day for AGR today."

Target Chip Ganassi team-mates Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon were third and fifth respectively, continuing the team's strong start to the season, while Team Penske team-mates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves finished the day fourth and sixth, as the IndyCar powerhouses immediately stamped their authority on proceedings.

"I've really been looking forward to coming to Indianapolis as part of Team Penske - what this organisation has been able to do here is truly remarkable," Briscoe commented, "Just turning my first laps this afternoon really was a special feeling for me. We tried to start with a comfortable set-up on the car and just turn some laps to see if we could learn anything new, so we really haven't done a lot in terms of trimming the car out to go for pure speed, but I'm sure that will come as the week goes on."

After his strong first run of the year at Kansas, Tomas Scheckter again showed that the Luczo Dragon team will not be making up the numbers by posting the seventh-best time of the day, helping Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Castroneves - in the spare Penske Dallara - to round out the top ten.

"This morning, we were struggling a little bit, but we came back and looked at everything and got the car back to where it's fairly decent," the South African reported, "I still think we've got a little bit to go, but we're just working away, and I'm pretty happy with it. Kansas helps a lot. I suppose if we just showed up here, we wouldn't really know where we are, but Indy's a different world; a different place. We performed decently at Kansas but, coming to Indy, we've got so much to catch up. [Kansas] did give everybody a little more confidence in the speed of the car, and our main thing is to just try to qualify in the top eleven. If we can do that, I'll be happy."

The veterans were on track for the first time this May, following two days of rookie orientation, and Will Power proved to be the best of the newcomers in eleventh spot, just ahead of Justin Wilson, with Hideki Mutoh and Ernesto Viso also making the top 15.

"It was a good day considering we started off with pretty bad balance in the KV Racing Technology Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia car," Power said, "We were able to come back at the end of the day with very nice balance, very neutral. The KVRT team has just got to work on the little bits now, try and find little bits of speed everywhere, because I want to get up there and try and qualify in that top eleven on Saturday."

In all, the 20 veterans and eleven rookies combined for the highest number of drivers to practice on the first day since 1999, when 33 drivers completed laps. Among their number were day two rookie pacesetter Alex Lloyd, who ended up 17th fastest, returnees Davey Hamilton and Max Papis, and Sarah Fisher, who made her first appearance running with her own team. While Hamilton did not run as much as some of his rivals, he ended the day happier than Vision Racing team-mates Ed Carpenter and AJ Foyt IV.

"It was a tough opening day, because we definitely didn't find the speed we wanted to," Foyt sighed, "The good thing is it's the first day of many, and we have some time to figure it out. The team has done really well all year long, so we'll figure it out. It was great to see that many cars out on pit-lane today, and it wasn't too bad out there because everyone needs a bit of clean air to work on their qualifying trim. Hopefully, we'll get some good weather all week so we can get a little bit better."

Having met with US presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton, series veteran Fisher wound up 32nd, ahead only of Milka Duno, but was satisfied with her debut as an owner-driver.

"Today was more of a shakedown than anything else," she explained, "We didn't get on track as early as we would have liked, but it's a start. For me, I haven't used the paddle shifters, so that is something I'm going to have to get used to, what they mean, what it wants, what it doesn't want. But it was a good start, and we'll go from there tomorrow."

All have three more days of practice before PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying on Saturday.

 

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